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Archive for the ‘Governor’s Office’ Category

Could it be that Gov. John Bel Edwards has finally seen and heard enough about the shenanigans of Louisiana State Police (LSP) Superintendent Mike Edmonson?

Has he been embarrassed one too many times by the state’s top cop who was foisted on him by the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police?

If the tone of this NOLA.com STORY by Julia O’Donoghue Wednesday (Feb. 22) is any indication, Edmonson’s days at LSP may indeed be numbered.

Edwards earlier this week ordered auditors from the Division of Administration (DOA) to conduct an investigation into a trip taken by a gaggle of LSP personnel and hangers-on to witness Edmonson receive an award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) at its conference in San Diego.

Of particular interest to Edwards was the expenditure of thousands of dollars in salaries, overtime, fuel, lodging and meals for four State Troopers who drove an unmarked State Police vehicle assigned to Edmonson’s second-in-command to the event. That trek included a side trip to and overnight stays in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Three of the four combined to claim 105 hours of overtime on the trip to and from San Diego, figures that appear far out of line with the distances traveled.

For example, each of the four claimed 12 hours to travel from the Grand Canyon resort city of Tusayan, Arizona, to Las Vegas, a distance of only 270 miles, a torrid pace of 22.5 mph. They also claimed 12 hours to drive from Las Vegas to San Diego, a trip of only 290 miles. For that leg of the journey, they put the petal to the metal, averaging a scorching 24 mph.

Can you say payroll fraud?

Maj. Derrell Williams did not claim overtime hours because those of the rank of captain or above are prohibited from claiming overtime. He did, however, claim compensatory leave time for the same hours.

While investigators’ focus will apparently be on the overtime charged by the four and the reasons for their side trip, there are several other aspects of the entire San Diego affair that should be considered:

  • Why was the original award nomination of Maj. Carl Saizan, a former State Trooper of the Year, pulled in favor of Edmonson?
  • Why was it necessary for so many State Police personnel to accompany Edmonson on this trip?
  • Why was Michelle Hyatt, the wife of Lt. Rodney Hyatt and a civilian non-LSP employee, allowed to accompany her husband in the State Police Ford Expedition on that cross-country trip? (The Expedition, by the way, is permanently assigned to Edmonson’s second-in-command, Deputy Superintendent Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy.
  • Why was part-time student worker Brandon Blackburn paid 53.5 hours for attending the conference? And why was Brandon Blackburn, the son of the late Frank Blackburn, formerly the LSP legal counsel, allowed to travel to the conference on his father’s ticket?
  • Finally, since each of the 15 LSP personnel who accompanied Edmonson on the trip, were on the clock and were paid for attending the conference, how many of those personnel actually attended conference sessions for which they charged the state?

LouisianaVoice made inquiry of IACP for attendance lists for the various sessions but we received the expected response: “We do not provide attendance records or make any information about our attendees publicly available.”

Of course, the DOA investigation is barely underway so it’ll be some time yet before any determination is made regarding Edmonson’s future.

One LouisianaVoice reader made an interesting observation when he said in an email to us this morning that the LSP superintendent’s position “is a job needing turnover every so often to avoid a J. Edgar Hoover situation.”

But should the governor decide that Edmonson has embarrassed his administration one too many times and that he must go, it’s crucial that he make the correct choice in selecting a successor—and not listen to the sheriffs and chiefs of police. He—and this is critical—must be his own man in making that decision.

If he simply drops down the chain of command a notch and names Dupuy, Lt. Col. Jason Starnes, or Maj. Beckett Breaux, nothing will have changed and LouisianaVoice will be guaranteed an uninterrupted flow of stories from Independence Boulevard.

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Gov. John Bel Edwards has ordered an investigation of that Las Vegas trip by four State Troopers.

The Trooper Underground has commissioned a poll of State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s job performance.

Louisiana State Police (LSP) insiders confide that Edmonson is more nervous than he’s been since that attempt in 2014 to slide a bill amendment through the legislature that would have given him a $55,000 per year increase in his retirement income.

Want a good laugh in the meantime? When asked about his signature on the expense forms submitted by Derrell Williams, one of the four who drove the vehicle, Edmonson said (are you ready for this?) he allows his assistant to approve/look over this stuff and use his signature stamp.

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And yet….and yet, no one has addressed that tacky action of yanking the nomination of a highly respected former Trooper of the Year so that Edmonson could stand in for the award in the company of a gaggle of his inner circle who made the trip to San Diego with him for the ceremony.

And while there has been plenty focus on the overtime pay claimed by the four who drove an unmarked State Police car to San Diego via Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, little attention has been given the salaries paid the others who attended the conference at which Edmonson was honored. And even less attention has been given to how Michelle Hyatt, wife of Lt. Rodney Hyatt and a civilian, was allowed to ride in the Expedition on that trip in violation of state regulations.

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San Diego’s nice this time of year

These five guys on the clock?

Why aren’t they at the IACP conference?

In fact, it appears that officials at LSP have circled the wagons as records promised by Public Information Officer Maj. Doug Cain have not been forthcoming.

Gov. Edwards Monday ordered an INVESTIGATION by the Division of Administration (DOA) into (you know someone was going to say it) LSP Travelgate. The investigation will be conducted by DOA auditors.

While the investigation will begin with the San Diego trip, Richard Carbo, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said auditors would look for patterns and “keep going further back if they find additional information.”

It could, however evolve into a good news-bad news scenario:

In what has to be encouraging to Edmonson’s critics, Carbo said the DOA investigation would be conducted apart from an internal investigation ordered by Edmonson, who has opposed efforts to bring in outside investigators to review the Las Vegas trip for possible criminal wrongdoing.

Auditors may also look into presence a fifth passenger, a civilian, who also made the trip in the Ford Expedition permanently assigned to Deputy Superintendent Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy. Michelle Hyatt posted photos of her and husband, Lt. Rodney Hyatt (one of the four who drive the Ford Expedition) at the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam on Facebook but has since taken them down. Those photos raised speculation, since confirmed by Edmonson, that she may have been a passenger in the vehicle, a violation of state policy.

The results of that nine-question SURVEY are certain to be interesting and will be published later this week.

Each question provides five possible answers. Without listing the answer choices, the questions include:

  • How effectively does Colonel Edmonson use company (agency) resources?
  • How much integrity does Colonel Edmonson have?
  • How consistently does Colonel Edmonson reward employees for good work?
  • How consistently does Colonel Edmonson punish employees for bad work?
  • How much trust to you have in Colonel Edmonson’s ability to make the right decisions?
  • How well do Colonel Edmonson’s priorities match up with the goals of your company (agency)?
  • How comfortable do you feel voicing your disagreement with Colonel Edmonson’s opinions?
  • How knowledgeable is Colonel Edmonson about the laws that matter to your company’s (agency’s) industry (field)?
  • Is Colonel Edmonson fit to lead the Louisiana State Police?

Optional: So that those taking the survey may verify that respondents are state employees, please provide your name. Names will remain strictly confidential, but if you are uncomfortable doing so, it is not required.

Optional: Provide any comments you wish to be provided to the media and the governor.

 

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It’s not certain if Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) Chairman T.J. Doss is simply LSPC’s equivalent to Donald Trump or if he’s not seeking or getting sound legal advice from commission legal counsel Lenore Feeney.

Either way, the commission, already reprising author Jimmy Breslin’s Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, just can’t seem to conduct a simple investigation into State Trooper political activity. Nor can Doss seem to get it right when seeking nominations to fill vacancies on the commission.

Article X, Part IV, Sec. 43 (c) of the 1974 Louisiana State Constitution says of nominations for appointment to LSPC:

The presidents of Centenary College at Shreveport, Dillard University at New Orleans, Louisiana College at Pineville, Loyola University at New Orleans, Tulane University of Louisiana at New Orleans, and Xavier University at New Orleans, after giving consideration to representation of all groups, each shall nominate three persons. The governor shall appoint one member of the commission from the three persons nominated by each president.

That should be plain enough. The presidents of the private universities are required to submit three names from the congressional district within which a vacancy occurs.

With four of the six schools located in New Orleans, that can become something of a problem if the vacancy is from, say the Third Congressional District which comprises much of Acadiana and Southwest Louisiana.

But if a vacancy occurs from the Fourth District, common sense says contact the President of Centenary in Shreveport for names of nominees. In the Fifth District, it would be the President of Louisiana College in Pineville.

So, when Lloyd Grafton of Ruston resigned earlier this month, why did Doss contact Gov. Edwards on Feb. 10 to say he was soliciting names from the President of Loyola University in New Orleans? And why did he, on that same day, fire off a letter to Loyola President Rev. Kevin Wildes saying that the Louisiana Constitution requires that Grafton’s vacancy be filled by gubernatorial appointment “from one of three persons nominated by the President of Loyola University”?

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Doss was correct in saying the vacancy had to be filled by someone from the Fifth Congressional District, but there is no such requirement that the names of nominees come from Loyola. Louisiana College is in the Fifth Congressional District and that institution’s president should have been the one contacted for names.

Perhaps Doss has access to alternative facts when complying with the Louisiana Constitution.

Of course, if Feeney dared try to correct him, there is legal precedent for firing the messenger: There’s Trump and his dismissal of interim Attorney General Sally Yates. And there’s the LSPC itself with the manner it forced out former Executive Director Cathy Derbonne in January because she insisted on complying with the law.

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When Lloyd Grafton tendered his resignation from the Louisiana State Police Commission over the shoddy way the commission had forced Executive Director Cathy Derbonne out the month before, it prompted a heated exchange between Grafton and Jared Caruso-Riecke, one of the newer members of the commission which has undergone considerable change in makeup in the past 12 months.

The confrontation between the two also prompted a few choice comments from member Calvin Braxton Jr. of Natchitoches who expressed his displeasure at the direction the commission, the State Police equivalent of the Civil Service Commission, has been going over the past year.

The commission has become increasingly politicized as it has come under the influence of the State Police upper management and the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA). The appointments of Caruso-Riecke of Covington and Monica Manzella of New Orleans, along with the election of T.J. Doss, the State Police representative on the commission, as its president only served to accelerate that shift.

The hiring of outside legal counsel Taylor Townsend, a former state senator and a political supporter of Gov. John Bel Edwards, to conduct a perfunctory investigation of political activity by LSTA members has further distanced the commission from even any pretense of functioning as an independent body.

Manzella, appointed last October, is an assistant city attorney for the City of New Orleans and has signed off on Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) contracts between the City of New Orleans and State Police. Under LACE, state police are paid by the local district attorney to help beef up traffic enforcement. Some have characterized her work on the contracts and her appointment to the commission as a possible conflict of interest.

But with last week’s outburst over Grafton’s comments about his perceived lack of integrity on the commission, it is Caruso-Riecke who bears a closer look because of his association with a racing team that openly boasts of evading law enforcement in attempting to set new cross-country speed records at speeds of up to 140 mph on public highways.

Caruso-Riecke, of Covington, heads up Riecke Construction which has “designed, acquired, and built numerous commercial, residential, and industrial developments throughout the Gulf South for several generations,” reads an online biography of CARUSO-RIECKE. Though he is involved in several other business enterprises, the “several generations” hints that the company’s financial success may have pre-dated his involvement in its operation and that he now benefits from the labors of his predecessors.

(Of course, it’s possible that he took over a mediocre company and propelled it to outrageous success through hard work and shrewd business tactics. On the other hand, it would appear problematic for anyone to maintain a hectic playboy persona while occupied with building a company from the ground up.)

Regardless, Caruso-Riecke, who also stars in a TV reality show, pointed out in January that he takes no per diem or mileage for attending commission meetings. But with $70 million in the bank, why would he? He loves to perpetuate his image of a fast-living bon vivant as evidenced by several online YouTube videos.

In one, he is interviewed by a member of his “Team Riecke” about the modifications to a Mercedes used in cross-country rally competition. Features include two in-dash police scanners, each with more than 1,000 channels, plus a handheld scanner and several cellphones—all used to evade law enforcement on public highways.

At one point, as Riecke pontificates on the features of his rally car in the YouTube INTERVIEW, he reaches into the back seat and retrieves a cover for the police scanners, explaining as he does so (to the amusement of the interviewer) that some states “frown” on such scanner equipment. The cover, when put in place, conceals the scanners and makes the dash appear as a solid component.

One might think he is a modern-day Burt Reynolds reprising his Smoky and the Bandit role—except Burt ain’t nearly cool enough; Burt doesn’t perch a pair of sporty, expensive sunglasses on his forehead in the same cool manner that Caruso-Riecke does.

In the second YouTube POST (warning: graphic language), Riecke places a casual $50,000 bet that another team, obviously friends, can’t beat the record of 32 hours, 51 minutes for driving from New York to Los Angeles. As the bet is made and as team members prepare to depart, one member boasts that the team has 10 separate license plates to help evade law enforcement as he demonstrates a quick plate change for the camera. He explains that if they are spotted and they hear officers on the scanner giving out their plate numbers, they can pull over and switch plates.

The team succeeds in making the New York to L.A. run in 31 hours, 59 minutes, eclipsing the old record by 52 minutes. At one point, they reveal they have averaged about 140 mph over a single 500-mile stretch.

So, what it’s now come down to is that in vetting appointees to the Louisiana State Police Commission, Gov. Edwards has selected a man last June whose hobby is evading law enforcement as he races around the country on public highways at speeds far exceeding 100 mph, laughing about concealing police scanners and apparently condoning switching license plates to further avoid arrest.

Apparently, he thinks he is Peter Pan and will never have to grow up.

And when he’s not behind the wheel, he casually bets against someone’s ability to average 90 mph from New York to Los Angeles. That’s an average speed, folks, for 2800 miles, but at speeds up to 140 mph in some stretches. He so cool that he loses a $50,000 bet in the same blasé manner others would in giving a homeless man a buck or two at a busy intersection.

And now he’s one of the newest appointments to the commission charged with maintaining the integrity of the Louisiana State Police by making sure officers and management play by the rules.

What’s wrong with this picture?

For openers, it should cause one to wonder about integrity on so many levels—that same integrity that Grafton attempted to address but was shouted down by Caruso-Riecke.

Which begs the question of how Caruso-Riecke got appointed in the first place.

Well, when all else fails, follow the money.

For starters, here are just a few political contributions by Caruso-Riecke and his companies:

  • Bobby Jindal—$16,000;
  • John Kennedy—$1,000;
  • Walter Reed—$7,000;
  • Mike Strain—$9,500;
  • Daniel Edwards (Gov. John Bel Edwards’ brother and Sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish—$4,500;
  • John Bel Edwards—$5,500.

You’d think that someone with a net worth of $70 million could’ve been a little more generous with the one who would appoint him to his present position on the commission.

 

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By Stephen Winham

“Senator, I believe the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the president.” [Sally Yates in reply to current U. S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions during her Senate confirmation hearing as Deputy U. S. Attorney General, March 24, 2015].

“My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts,” … “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities, nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.” [memo to her staff before Sally Yates was fired as Acting Attorney General, January 30, 2017]

 Shortly after he was sworn in, on January 30, 2017, new Acting Attorney General Dana Boente released a statement rescinding Yates’ order and vowing to “defend the lawful orders of our president.”

 (emphasis mine)

I’m not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV (though there is an attorney named Stephen Winham in St. Augustine, Florida), but I firmly believe the roles of both the U S. and our state’s attorneys general are often misunderstood and, sometimes, misrepresented.  We repeatedly hear the attorney general is the “people’s attorney” – and, to a large extent, that is true. However, notwithstanding anything else they may or may not do, attorneys general are, primarily, the government’s attorneys.

In addition to upholding the constitution and statutory laws, AGs are sworn to represent and defend the government. They are, in other words, government’s in-house law firms.

So how can any attorney represent any entity and not also represent its sitting chief executive?

It is important to remember that we have a judicial branch of government.  Attorney General opinions are just that—opinions.  Only through the judicial system are legal disputes ultimately resolved. While justice departments can and do provide legal guidance, they are not the final arbiters on questions of the law, itself.  In a true legal sense, the judicial branch of government is designed to be a direct servant of the people.

Departments of justice, both state and federal, are executive, not judicial branch departments. We have sometimes allowed the U. S Justice Department and our own attorney general to assume judicial powers they don’t have. Attorney general opinions are often treated as if they are judicial rulings. They clearly are not. To the extent departments of justice enforce the law, they are subject to the court system in the judicial branch like everybody else.

In the first quote above, Yates answered correctly. It is certainly the responsibility of the attorney general to give independent advice to the president. If I hire an attorney, I certainly expect that person to give me “independent” legal advice. What value do I get from an attorney if I expect him or her to simply validate everything I say or do? That would hardly constitute sound legal representation. And, even if I have been charged with committing an illegal act, don’t I still deserve the best representation possible to ensure justice is served?

I firmly believe Yates was wrong in the second case – the memo to her staff.

Though he artfully hedged on the issue, Acting Attorney General Boente’s position is also correct.

What should Jeff Sessions, now confirmed as Attorney General, do now with regard to presidential executive orders? He has reportedly recently indicated he will defend the President’s travel ban order. However, during his confirmation hearings he voiced opposition to denying U. S. entry to Muslims on the grounds of religion.

I’m in no position to advise AG Sessions, but if I was I would suggest he tell Trump he will effectively defend any part of the order that is lawful, but make clear that he will have great difficulty defending anything in it that appears to be clearly unlawful. He should defend any ambiguities in favor of the President to the extent possible, of course, since he is our government’s attorney.

If Sessions and the President cannot come to an agreement, and assuming the President is unwilling to rescind and perhaps issue a modified order, the Attorney General should resign. He should certainly not air any disagreements with the President publicly, as Ms. Yates did. Regardless of her personal motive, she weakened her client’s (the government’s) case.

Like 42 other states, Louisiana elects its attorney general. Recent events lead me to believe it may be time to reconsider that. Our state attorney general has gone out of his way to take legal positions counter to those of our governor. Would he do so if the governor appointed him?

Again, how can our state’s attorney defend our state, but not its chief executive?

Jeff Landry’s motivation for constant bickering with the Gov. Edwards doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether he can effectively represent the state’s (and, to that extent, the people’s) best interests while doing so. Notwithstanding his laudable efforts in consumer protection and Medicaid fraud prosecutions, he does the state and its people a disservice by not providing legal representation to our governor and, even more so, by openly defying him.

For the good of our state, isn’t it time for Landry to tone it down?

 

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